Sacred Citadel is a brawler spin-off of the Sacred RPG series, but you don't have to be familiar with the original games to enjoy this new entry. Yes, you're running around the world of Ancaria, one of the playable characters is a Seraphim, and there are plenty of other touchstones to be found. To newcomers, it's all standard fantasy tropes like burning villages and powerful artifacts.

Four character classes fulfill most the roles of a well-rounded Dungeons & Dragons party. The warrior specializes in melee combat, the ranger hangs back with his rapid-fire bow, the mage uses offensive fire and ice spells, and the shaman specializes in lightning and plant magic with a dash of helpful buffs thrown in. Unlike many brawlers, all of the characters feel markedly different while retaining a similar control scheme that makes them all easy to pick up and play. The warrior specializes in melee tanking, but all of the others can handle themselves when the action gets close as well. Combos are extremely easy to grasp and recall on the fly, so you can knock enemies to the edge of the screen or air juggle them as the situation demands. The dodge roll on the right stick is your primary defensive maneuver and it works very well (you can't count on the block with more powerful enemies).

Developer Southend Interactive has created a fluid and versatile combat system. Various enemy types push you to change your strategy, and environmental hazards simultaneously present danger and opportunity. Golden Axe fans will enjoy the variety of powerful mounts and environment-clearing super moves that build up over time. A wide mix of tricky mini-bosses and huge screen-filling menaces rain fire from above.

All of these positive traits help to balance out my complete indifference to the story, characters, and overall tone. I forced myself to watch the narrated pans over static art that break up the chapters at least once. In-game dialogue is equally as dry, seemingly taken straight from the standard evil villain handbook. With games like Scott Pilgrim, Double Dragon: Neon, and Castle Crashers brimming with character and charisma, Sacred Citadel falls short in this respect by a wide margin.

With four character types, one would assume that this is a four-player co-op game, but for some reason this disappointingly tops out at three. Creating your party ends up as a choice of "Who do we leave out?" when you're teaming up with two other friends. You don't have the option to double up on character types, so kiss your dream of rolling with a team of warriors goodbye. Online play worked smoothly in my tests, though teammates would occasionally warp across the screen. This didn't hinder things much, and I prefer it to slowing down the entire gameplay screen to a crawl if the connections are dipping. One frustrating bug in co-op frequently cropped up: When tutorial messages appear they often stay up for the rest of the level, blocking much of the lower part of the screen in the process.

Light RPG elements pervade the entire experience. Characters level up and gain points you can invest into four stat categories (attack, defense, dexterity, and power). Some characters benefit more from certain upgrades, but you're free to invest against type and make your mage a tank if you like. Be careful, though. You can't respec your stats, so if you don't like the way your character is developing, you've got to scrap him or her and start from scratch.

Loot drops here and there in every level, and more often than not it's better than your current equipment. In a refreshing break from the rules, pickups will never fade away, so you can focus on the fighting at hand and pilfer later. Each character dual wields melee weapons, so you can equip any combination of swords, axes, and maces with various elemental properties. Armor and character-specific weapons round out the pickups. While everyone shares gold, you have to battle over equipable items. You can only carry one of each item category at a time, meaning that you have to drop your current sword to get a new one. This is usually fine, but it sucks when you encounter a piece that's just above your level and you're forced to leave it behind. Why not allow players to sell old loot at the shops in town or at least offer a backpack slot or two for situations like these?

Sacred Citadel gets a lot of core mechanics right, and it's always fun to load up on powerful new loot. If you just want to run around and smash stuff and don't care about compelling antagonists or heroes, this does the job. But if you're looking for the total package, plenty of great alternatives are already out there.